Quest begins with dropped dogs, a balmy breeze and beer

The dogs were peeing everywhere — on truck tires, in the snow, on running boards and even on each other.

The dogs were peeing everywhere — on truck tires, in the snow, on running boards and even on each other.

One big white husky was chewing the tie strap holding a sled onto his dog trailer. Another was clinging to the leg of an interested spectator.

It was two hours before the first team was scheduled to leave Fairbanks, Alaska, marking the start of the 23rd annual Yukon Quest.

In the downtown holding area beside the Chena River, dogs, handlers, family, fans and mushers were milling about.

Booties were being strapped onto dogs, mushers were rooting through their sled bags double-checking gear and the vets were doing some last minute rounds.

It was one degree Celsius, and most mushers weren’t wearing gloves.

“I can’t believe how many people have been thanking me for bringing the warm weather,” joked last year’s Quest winner Lance Mackey.

“I wasn’t looking forward to setting out in minus 40,” he said.

“I must be a little wimpy, ‘cause I get cold easily.”

It’s too warm, but it’s cloudy at least, said Whitehorse’s 18-year-old Kiara Adams.

“The weather sucks,” said Yukon musher Sebastian Schnuelle.

But regardless of temperature, teams and mushers were raring to go.

“The hardest part is waiting,” said Mackey.

“The longer I have to think about things, the more I forget.”

There are too many preparations and worries, said Schnuelle.

“But once you pull up that (snow) hook and go, you have no more choices — you’ve got what you’ve got.”

Fish Lake musher Kyla Boivin was the first out of the chute Saturday, followed by three-time Quest champion Hans Gatt.

Adams left the start line eighth with only a few seconds to spare, but still managed to leave on time.

The Chena River was packed with spectators, some who had come from Europe, Japan, Armenia and Mexico just to watch the team leave.

And, after 44 minutes, all 22 teams were on their way.

An hour downriver, another group had gathered to watch teams pass under the Nordale Bridge.

Kids were pulling each other across the Quest trail in sleds while parents stood around a small campfire drinking beer.

Here comes another, someone cried.

The kids scrambled off the trail.

It was Schnuelle.

Although he left the starting chute dead last, he had already passed Alaska’s Rod Boyce.

His team was hot, tongues lolling out, but they were trotting along at a steady pace.

Schnuelle looked relaxed, almost smug.

All along the river Alaskans were barbequing, watching the mushers glide past.

“I can’t believe how much food I ended up with in my sled,” said Mackey later that night.

“I’m a sucker when it comes to food and I ended up with more than I started out with. I had hot dogs and moose burgers, someone even offered me a beer.”

And did he take the beer?

“I had to,” he said.

“There is nothing like a Budweiser on a Saturday afternoon.”

At the North Pole dog drop, about 61 kilometres into the 1,600-kilometre race, another crowd had gathered.

But there were no barbeques or beers.

A green military tent held hot chocolate, coffee and hot apple cider.

Quest volunteers were struggling to keep people away from the trail.

The first musher will be here in five minutes, someone yelled.

It was Hans Gatt.

At this first dog drop, mushers had to give the race officials their starting bibs.

Still wearing his, Gatt had to stop, after struggling to get the bib off. His team immediately started rolling in the snow, trying to cool off.

“We’re taking it easy,” he said.

“Standing still is the worst, that’s when they get hot.”

One dog just couldn’t get enough of the snow, and kept on rolling.

“Who is that?” said Gatt. “Tony, let’s go.”

And he was off.

Fairbanks’ Eric Butcher and Lance Mackey showed up next, followed by Skagway’s Hugh Neff.

Yukon rookie Saul Turner, who had started in fifth, showed up 11th with a dog in his sled.

It is unusual for mushers to drop dogs from their

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